A song by Michael Harriot
Two years ago, some co-workers of mine
Asked me to clap back at trolls online.
So we came up with a plan to respond to hate
The plan was dope, and it went this way:
The Root took the comments emails and tweets
And put them in a bag until the end of the week.
Then we sorted through the bag, took the worst we had
And responded to the trolls using logic and facts.
August 25, 2017
Was the first Mailbag and people thought it was mean.
Because truth cuts a racist down to the bone
but these stupid motherfuckers wouldn’t leave us alone.
So we kept at it and it became a hit.
And we’ve been roasting these trolls every since.
Wypipo get mad, readers get laughs
And every Friday you get the Clapback Mailbag
Last week, we published a few pieces on Jay-Z’s decision to hook up with the NFL.
The following email and tweets were not, by far, the worst or most critical correspondence we’ve seen on our Jay-Z coverage. However, it accurately sums up many of the other points of criticism that we’ve received on this issue.
From: Jonathan A.
To: Michael Harriot
I read this article, and I recognize it is an opinion column from a subjectively written publication. We are both fans of Jay-Z, and I appreciate you taking note of the good that he has done. I’ve been disappointed in the people who oppose Jay-Z’s deal, and choose to ignore all of the contributions he’s done for our community. In addition to the philanthropy you have noted, and all of the other publicly written stories of his giving you didn’t mention, he and his wife have done for those less fortunate that we are unaware of.
My disappointment in this article comes from your decision to not give Jay the benefit of the doubt. Jay has been in the public eye for over 20 years. When have we ever accused him of selling out? In fact, you could argue his lyrics and discography have become more pro-black and socially conscious as time passes, beginning with Magna Carta Holy Grail.
I am disappointed you would call Jay a thief, or somehow paint him as an immoral capitalist. Did you watch the video of the press conference? Did you notice how, in a room full of white people, Jay had a seat at the table. Did you see the black man behind him? That is his longtime friend Ty Ty. So on day one, you can tell he is going to be bringing his people along with him, so that he can collectively enact change for the greater good. If this deal creates 100 jobs, is that something worth opposing? History has shown the Carters employ those who look like us. Who have you directly benefitted in your social activism?
It is shameful that our community has been at odds over his decision. I have read too many think pieces from people, like yourself, who have not done nearly as much as Hov. It is shameful to hear so much criticism from those in our own community who still watch football, but have the nerve to criticize Jay for not having Kaep in his deal. I am confident you understand how ridiculous that sounds from someone outside our community’s perspective. Usually when you see a black man trying to be a change agent, the criticism comes from those who benefit from our oppression. This time is just another uncomfortable reminder that we as a people are always our biggest critics, and seldom our biggest advocates.
Instead we’d rather Jay stick to “his lane” and rather “watch him sell crack”. Instead of supporting one of our own who has the resources to be a significant voice in this canal of owners who ultimately are the deciding factor on whether Kaep has a job, we are harping about how Jay didn’t include an ostracized player in his business dealings with the very same cabal of owners who alienated Kaep. To be clear, and like Hov said, I support Kaep and think kneeling is a critical part of this movement in order to raise awareness.
The community is mad because Kaep doesn’t have a job right? I see two possible solutions. If we have a boycott and all the people, including you, who have something to say about Jay’s method of progress stop watching, the NFL will lose money and be forced to respond to our economic pressure. That, so far, hasn’t happened (how crazy is it that there are members of our community who continue to watch football, but shame Hov for working with the NFL?). The second possible solution is that one or a group of us can put our resources together and seek ownership. Ownership will put us in a position to better represent players and the audience.
So far, we haven’t made a lot of progress with the former possible solution, but the latter is increasingly becoming more likely. After all of the outrage about his social justice initiative, did you hear that Jay was going to have “significant interest” in ownership of a team? Significant interest is a greater share of ownership than he had as an owner of the Brooklyn Nets, and therefore more powerful.
That’s my spiel. I know you will read this, and I already know your opinion on the matter so I won’t be expecting a response. My point is, given his track record, I think Jay deserves the chance to see how this plays out before the social justice warriors, many of who don’t even be in the field, begin to write objectively mediocre content, revealing their own jealousy and contempt for a man who is the definition of the American Dream. But alas, I understand that this is a hot topic, and the Root needs all the clicks it can get, so your editor made you write something hoping it’d stick. I hope you fulfilled their expectations.
Dear Michael and Johnathan,
First, I take umbrage with your series of tweets, not just because I disagree with them or I think you’re wrong (I do), but because I’ve always wanted to use the word “umbrage” in a sentence. Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s examine the content of your argument.
First of all, there might not be a bigger fan of Jay-Z’s music than me. I can probably recite most of his catalog by heart. The night before the press conference, I was about to perform at a poetry event and used a warm-up exercise I learned from a voice training professor in college. Basically, you’re supposed to take a song with intricate lyrics and say them as fast as you can. For two decades, I’ve used the same song:
Jay-Z’s “A Million and One Questions.”
In fact, the biggest pushback that I received from my piece was in regards to my insistence that Jay-Z is the GOAT. Those people are stupid. This is not up for debate. But I digress...
I say all of this to explain that I have no interest in tearing Jay-Z down, nor does anyone else at The Root. And, despite some people’s “clickbait”-related conspiracy theories, no one here forms an opinion based on the presumption that attacking someone famous will boost our page views. In fact, I specifically asked the editors to write that open letter even though I am technically on a monthlong hiatus because—as the article clearly stated—I don’t believe his actions negate all the good work he’s done in the social justice arena.
I also disagree with your assertion that writing about the pushback against Jay-Z was “tearing him down.” Angela Bronner Helm didn’t call Jay-Z’s actions “despicable.” Eric Reid, one of the few NFL players with the balls to continue Kaepernick’s protest, who has more access and insight to Kaepernick than you or me, said it. Reporting on Reid’s response is not an attack on Hov. It’s the truth. But here is the big question:
Why is it that dumb people equate disagreeing with someone’s actions to a “hit job”? Why would Jay-Z dump his money and influence into the same honeypot as the men who used their wealth to silence a harmless protest against injustice and inequality? Why does Jay-Z need the NFL?
No one in America—not Colin Kaepernick, not Eric Reid, not Roger Goodell, not even you or me—was waiting patiently for the NFL to solve the problem of police brutality. I haven’t read a single cohesive argument from anyone who says Jay-Z owning a team wouldn’t be a good thing. I’d even support that. But that’s not what this is. This doesn’t get Jay-Z in the room with the upholders of white supremacy. It doesn’t even get him into the room where decisions on the NFL are made.
This isn’t even a seat at the table.
It’s a job waiting tables.
What is it with “this seat at the table” bullshit? Where is this table? And why would anyone want to sit around a piece of furniture with the motherfuckers who built the table and barred you from joining them? Do we think Kaepernick was white-balled from the NFL because there wasn’t a really good rap lyricist available who could dissuade NFL owners from their racist collusion? It is highly unlikely that all 32 owners individually believed that Colin Kaepernick shouldn’t protest or play in the league. But in spite of their individual beliefs, they unanimously agreed not to hire a quarterback who could have made a few of their teams better.
That’s how white supremacy works. It’s like the people who didn’t own slaves fighting to preserve the Confederacy. It’s like poor white people railing against Obamacare. It’s like niggas thinking one of the ways to end oppression is joining the oppressors.
It should be noted that The Root attended the intimate press conference at the Roc Nation offices and posed many of these questions to Jay-Z. And as far as Michael Hambrick’s belief that anyone is “blackballing” Hov is concerned, pointing out that there are people who take umbrage (two times) to this NFL deal isn’t an act of non-support. It isn’t even an opinion. It’s an objective fact (As is the fact that Univision no longer owns The Root). To be clear, there isn’t a single sentence on this entire website that even insinuates that people should boycott or “cancel” Jay-Z. That is simply some shit you made up in your head.
But here is the most important question in this entire argument:
Who gives a fuck if we don’t support Jay-Z?
The NFL colluded to ban Colin Kaepernick and it worked because the NFL is an institution built on the supremacy of whiteness. The notion that black people should hold hands, give each other an enthusiastic thumbs-up or can, in any way, dismantle white supremacy is the stupidest idea that ever existed. White supremacy exists because white people created and perpetuate it. A unanimous vote from the executive committee of black America won’t make it disappear into the ether any more than articles on The Root keep it alive. White people must do that.
But maybe that’s just some shit in my head. Maybe slavery would’ve ended sooner if one of our brightest negro spiritual singers would’ve just sat down with the slavemasters. Perhaps our best Mississippi bluesman could’ve negotiated an end to Jim Crow. All this time we’ve been suffering, do you mean to tell me that Prince could’ve convinced them to fix the broken criminal justice system?
Michael, I’m not saying you’re wrong.
But I have reasonable doubts.
These final two correspondences are emblematic of a persistent and repeated request often received by black writers and black people everywhere. They are in regards to the following articles:
To: Michael Harriot
I read your article on Jonathan Weisman, who is a writer I greatly admire and respect. I get that your Root readers like inflamatory content but I think its very slanderous to refer to Mr. Weisman as a white supremacist because of a mistake. I’d like to have a conversation with you about this subject because I find that dismissively calling white people racists is a growing issue on the internet. I think an open dialogue would help us both come to better understandings about this.
Call me at (redacted) or email me at (redacted) and maybe we can have a productive dialog.
To: Michael Harriot
Hello, Michael Harriot—One of my students sent me your Feb 21st piece in The Root in which you quoted and eloquently critiqued my Feb 20th op-ed in USA Today. I know it’s last winter’s news now but a discussion about white privilege remains timely. If you are open to it I would value a discussion with you about it. I am motivated in part by the desire to model, for my students (who, for the record, do not enjoy white privilege), the value of dialogue in the search for understanding and the benefits I desive from having the humility to be open minded even at my advanced age (60). But of course I’ll take no offense if you don’t share an interest in this or just can’t spare the time. Peace. LS
Dear Larry and Rebecca,
It is not my responsibility to teach white people how to not be racist and it is indicative of your privilege to even think you are entitled to some kind of private conversation after I’ve literally written hundreds of thousands of words about it. I was once open to this kind of thing but I’ve found that these conversations usually result in a one-way explanation from the white person trying to explain why they aren’t racist. Even though I didn’t call Jonathan Weisman a racist or Larry Strauss privileged, I said what I said.
But I will share a story with you.
On my seventh birthday, my mother and my grandmother gave me a Huffy bicycle and it immediately became my most prized possession. Back in those days (and maybe now, too) kids would name their bikes. Because my banana-seat BMX was the exact same color as the yellowest of the yellows, a hue that I discovered when my mother painted my sister’s room, I naturally called my bicycle the “Dandy Lion.” (I know, I know. That name is genius, right?)
Aside from being my primary form of transportation for when my mother sent me on frequent quests for aluminum foil (For some reason, my family constantly ran through foil like a Kardashian through titties), milk (for some reason, we also constantly ran out of milk), and pantyhose for church (same thing), the Dandy Lion was also my primary source of ass-whippings.
I stored the Dandy in a wooden barn my grandfather built in our backyard. Along with the bike, the barn housed a lawnmower, a few family heirlooms, a slide projector and slides and other shit we’d probably never need but were holding on to just in case. My grandfather died before I was born and I had only seen a few pictures of him when I was rummaging through the barn for something, but he built that motherfucking barn. Aside from a couple of roof repairs, it was sturdy as fuck.
Every few days or so, I’d forget to lock the barn, which angered my mother because my absentmindedness put the lawnmower, some old photo albums and the precious family ice cream churn in jeopardy. But no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t consistently remember to lock that barn door. Every time my mom found that barn door unlocked, my punishment would range from a night in the solitary confinement of my room without television, to a vicious recycled lecture about personal and family responsibility that invariably ended with: “You gon’ learn one day. One day you gon’ learn.”
To spare me from this traumatic cycle, every time I came from outside, my grandmother, who lived with us, would remind me by simply asking: “Mikey, did you lock the barn door?”
The answer was always no.
Every time she asked, I would immediately run outside and lock the barn. But for some reason, my mother would still get mad, which I could not understand. Plus, I had the most to lose, so what was she worried about? Aside from the priceless Dandy, did she think some criminal mastermind was burrowed away in Hartsville, S.C., to rob us for some old black and white photos? And if the point was to keep the stuff in the barn safe, why couldn’t she do like my grandmother and just remind me about the barn lock?
“Do not make that my responsibility or your grandmother’s responsibility,” she said. “The responsibility is yours.”
Hey Becky and Larry, does any of this sound familiar?
One day, my entire family came home to a shocking surprise. We were returning from our yearly week-long church convention that, of course, necessitated numerous pairs of stockings, most of which I had bravely acquired on the Dandy. When we pulled the long canary yellow station wagon into the yard, everyone’s mouth was hanging open. Because I, as the man of the family, was relegated to the cargo part of the station wagon we called the “way, way back,” I couldn’t even see why everyone was so aghast until I exited the car.
The barn was gone.
The doors were not open. It was not ransacked. It had ceased to exist. It was nevermore. In its former spot was a big patch of black dirt. It had burned down. The only thing that was left was the remains of the lawnmower, the handle of the ice cream churn...
And leaned against the fence, untouched and in perfect shape, was the gleaming, yellow Dandy Lion.
We stood there, in a single file line, in front of that dearly departed barn as if we were mourning the death of a loved one. But at least the Dandy Lion was ok, right? I mean, isn’t that what really counts?
I would later find out that, aside from his retirement picture and a photo of him in uniform in World War II, every picture we owned of my grandfather was in that barn. My aunt had also transferred generations of photo negative to slides and stored them there. I had no idea how the Dandy survived and I knew I deserved an ass-whipping. I wish I could write that my grandmother had tears in her eyes or that she silently wept, but she did not. She stood there stoically and said nothing. Perhaps that is the greatest gift my grandmother ever gave me. But for the first time, my mother posed the question instead of my grandmother. She turned to me—no, everyone turned to me—and she asked me—as if it were a Tuesday and we were out of aluminum foil:
“Mikey, did you lock the barn door?”
There was absolutely no point to her question. Everyone knew I had likely left that door unlocked and we all knew it was unintentional. I don’t think anyone blamed me for erasing so much of my family history or having to buy a new lawnmower. However, at least a small part of this was my responsibility because I’d left that door open. And my mother wanted to make sure I knew.
And I wanted to let Jonathan Weisman and Larry Strauss know that they, too, left the barn door open.
One of the reasons Billies from the hill are comfortable yelling “send her back” in crowded auditoriums is that people like Weisman, who works at the most important newspaper in the world, are entitled enough to publicly insinuate that Ilhan Omar, might be a U. S. citizen, but she isn’t American American. Part of the reason black students receive harsher punishments from teachers, black girls are perceived as less innocent and more adult-like, and black boys are seen as angrier and more threatening is because people like Larry Strauss insist that white kids “don’t deserve to have their entire lives defined by one day,” and “even if they did something offensive...they should not be subjected to the televised and publicized judgment of grownups.” Yet, I can’t seem to find his article decrying the system that disproportionately expels black boys or the piece he wrote railing against black girls being punished for the clothes they wear.
To be clear, Jonathan Weisman’s tweet didn’t make people hate Ilhan Omar, nor did Larry Strauss’ article force people to treat black children more harshly. But if you think these small, seemingly innocuous acts by two learned men who know the effects of white supremacy don’t embolden hate, allow me to tell you the rest of the story of the barn-burning:
The Brown girls, who lived across the street, knew that I kept the Dandy Lion in the barn. Our mothers were best friends and we grew up like sisters and brothers. But those girls were, to put it mildly, wild. Years later, when we were teenagers, they revealed the truth about what happened to the barn that night.
Jameka, the youngest of the girls, decided to go into the barn and take the Dandy for a ride. Apparently, I forgot to lock the barn door so often, they had done this a million times. She was riding the bike when her mom asked her what she was doing on my bike. She went inside and told her mom that I said she could ride it (I hadn’t). When Jameka returned a few minutes later, she discovered that the Dandy had been stolen. After she searched for the bike for a while but couldn’t find it, she had an idea that that blew my mind. I swear, this was her logic...
To cover her tracks, she set the barn on fire.
According to them, as the firefighters put out the fire, the entire neighborhood gathered to watch. The person who found my bike in the middle of the street bought it back, so Mr. Brown chained it to our back fence. But before Jameka revealed this story years later, I remember her poetically describing how high the flames were on that night.
“Y’all shoulda seen it,” she said. “It was so purr-tee.”
If it sounds stupid, it is.
It’s as stupid as racism. It’s as dumb as thinking you can ship an American citizen to another country because you disagree with them politically. It makes as much sense as being outraged over people calling out a couple of white boys for their privilege but staying silent while this country shits on the heads of black kids every day.
But both of you are right. Jonathan Weisman isn’t responsible for the racist and Islamophobic attacks against Ilhan Omar. Larry Strauss didn’t give the Covington Catholic boys their white privilege. I doubt if most racists read the New York Times or USA Today. Strauss and Weisman are no more white supremacists than I am an arsonist.
But, even though they didn’t start the fire, it is people like them who leave the barn door unlocked.
And it is never their shit that burns.